Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1981

I’m addicted to Saturday morning cartoons. Friday nights my sister and I sleep on the blue and white carpet that covers the upstairs hallway. Head to head our sleeping bags contain weekend excitement zipped up in plaid softness. Just before 7am we wake, take turns peeing, stumble like little zombies wearing pjs, go downstairs for the sugar. Pile Tasteeos (a generic version of Cheerios) into our bowls, then heap spoonfuls of the white stuff from a large snapped glass jar, before navigating our way to the basement TV. The Magnavox sits dormant, boring, until one of us pulls the knob, turning the dial to channel 5, Big Blue Marble, the colorful glow of the earth greets us. By 8am the grey goop like melted cotton candy has been scooped up from the bottom of my bowl, I’m transfixed, wired, ready for Super Friends. Good vs. Evil, the Hall of Justice vs. the Legion of Doom, subtle American propaganda?, a magic lasso, aquatic powers, gadgets, Krypton-derived strength, interspersed with short vignettes urging us not to smoke. 9am The Smurfs, a mushroomed utopian village, minus the lack of females, the menacing cat Azrael, the balding black-robed Gargamel, and the bullying of Brainy who is always right. At 10am my appetite for wealth is reinforced by Richie Rich, he, like the games Life and Monopoly, teach me that having mucho money is good, very good. The last show of the morning is Tarzan and the Lone Ranger. The hour does it’s best to insert African and Native American stereotypes into my plastic mind, along with a heavy dose of male-dominated adventure. Around noon I have a rumbling stomach and my dad has already threatened to turn off the TV at least once. We finally ascend, pop in some Stouffer’s French bread pizzas, put on some clothes, and count the days until our next Saturday morning injection.

Baseball Savant

I used to be a baseball savant. My son loves his Blaze and the Monster Machine toys, and my daughter loves (loved?) her American Girl dolls. Me? I had The Baseball Encyclopedia and shoeboxes full of baseball cards. I can still sometimes scare people. Like recently when I told my mother-in-law Ty Cobb’s birthday (December 18th 1886) and his death year (1961), while we were doing dishes after dinner. My first team was the Yankees; I think I liked them because of Bucky Dent, his name sounded like Buck Rogers or Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. Similar to how my kids now narrate play, I made up songs about big leaguers Dave Concepcion and Steve “Groovy” Garvey. Whole afternoons were dedicated to memorizing statistics. George Foster, 52 home runs in 1977, Steve Carlton, 310 strikeouts in 1972. No fact was too mundane. Ken Singleton is allergic to wool, Luis Tiant likes to smoke cigars, Reggie Jackson has personal issues with Billy Martin, Warren Spahn pitched until 44. The list was endless. First thing in the morning I grabbed the Washington Post sports section to look at batting averages, analyze ERA’s. When I wasn’t with my cards and baseball books, I played, 1st base, okay hitter, usually batted 6th. Saturdays after my game I’d watch whatever teams were on TV, mesmerized by Rod Carew’s open batting stance, Pete Rose’s efficient hitting and hustle, Gaylord Perry’s vaselined hair for spitballs, Nolan Ryan’s pitching, faster than a hot Texas wind. As I got older I craved the stories. Tales of Rogers Hornsby staring at the snow, longing for it to melt so he could play ball again, Roberto Clemente’s humanitarian work in Latin America, Babe Ruth’s boxing at St. Mary’s in Baltimore. Baseball was a complete education: history, boredom on the bench, rivalries, math, race relations, superstition, teamwork, geography, psychology, ritual, Big League Chew. I made a county all-star team when I was 12, but quit the game for tennis the next year. The summer of 1991 I let the magic go, sold all my good cards, made almost $2500, said goodbye to baseball, got ready for college. Today I’m focused other things, like my family, ending homelessness in San Francisco, sometimes this writing stuff. But I can still watch a game, look at the count, whisper to myself, he’s gonna to throw a changeup.

My Old House: Virginia, 2017

Maybe you want to take photos of the paintings to show Liz, see if she might like them, my mom says, as we walk on worn wooden floorboards. The house smells old, slightly musty from the never opened windows, old like the Chickering grand piano that sits in the living room. We can’t even give it away, my mom says. It is from 1910 and apparently has an affliction that no piano doctor can cure, age. I go into the basement where I used to play Ping-Pong, lift weights, hit the heavy bag. Only the netless table remains, labeled boxes piled on top. I see my name on some, look inside to find yearbooks, faded inscriptions urging me to have a great summer, get laid, get psyched for high school. I look through old photo albums, take out my iPhone, snap shots of me with bangs, wearing polo shirts, my dad on a Honda motorcycle, send them to my wife. Cute, she texts back. At night I tuck my son into bed, where he sleeps in my old room. My desk is gone, the mirror where I adjusted ties, gone, the wallpaper where I scribbled a girlfriend’s name, stripped off long ago. Outside I amble along with the robins, squirrels, and chipmunks, everything so green and quiet compared to San Francisco’s flamboyant tech-savvy noise. Anonymous, I walk like an old man past young families, past houses where I used to eat ice cream, where I watched the Redskins on TV’s with antennas, where I threw water balloons. Summer sun, the light is the same, the humidity, nothing has changed, I’m strolling through 1986. Then I look across the street, stare at Howard and Dorothy’s former house where I used to rake leaves, both dead for years, my parents tell me. Back inside, my son is excited, shows me the time machine that he is building. I give him a kiss, I love it, I say.